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Jessie Pope (1868-1941), born in Leicester, a ‘versatile London writer’, was a prolific female humorist, journalist and children’s author with masculine interests: ‘She is a very much outdoor young lady. She rides, swims, walks…and beagles’ (Colonist article, 1914). She wrote ‘simple rhymes to suit the times’ covering popular subjects, including men’s sports such as rugby football.
She published her poems and stories widely in Punch, The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard, The Westminster Gazette, Nash’s Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Novel Magazine, Pall Mall Gazette, The Daily Express, The New Magazine, The Windsor Magazine etc. and in Christmas annuals and First World War publications. She was one of the foremost Edwardian humorists and children’s writers in Britain pre-World War I.
Her reputation extended to New Zealand. After her first New Zealandmention in the Colonist, 23 September 1903, she received mentions regularly in New Zealand newspaper reviews and advertisements of overseas publications for more than a decade. Along with her mentions in the Colonist, prominent Wellington writer/journalist A F T Chorlton’s Bookman column in The Evening Post noted her work.
During these years (1903-23), she was a very popular Edwardian and Georgian comic writer with New Zealanders (notably read by The Spike group of writers at Victoria College) and her verse and stories were widely published in New Zealand newspapers, including The Evening Post, The New Zealand Free Lance, the Feilding Star and Poverty Bay Herald. Our Edwardian Suffragettes and Georgian women writers would’ve read her, from Jessie Mackay to Robin Hyde.
During World War I, Pope became the ‘war girl’ in verse and used for recruitment purposes. However, she is one of the few English war poets to recognise ANZAC feats of bravery and their ‘imperishable renown’ in poems such as ‘An Anzac Poem’, ‘Anzac’, and ‘Cobbers’. Kiwi soldiers enclosed some of her poems in letters sent home in New Zealandsoldiers’ parcels. Family members then sent the poems in to local newspapers that republished them. She achieved a reputation with her war verse comparable to Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ in some parts of New Zealand.
Jessie Pope’s War Poems (London: Grant Richards Ltd, 1915)
Pope’s ‘An Anzac Poem’ was recited by Shayle Gardiner, Director of Entertainments for NZEF, at the Albert Hall ANZAC Concert,London,6 May 1920.
Jessie Pope’s war poetry and reputation fell into obscurity after World War One when she became despised by returning English soldiers and condemned for her pro-war verses considered to be propaganda; however, her poetry and role as a woman writer during the time of the Suffragettes is currently undergoing reappraisal. There is also reappraisal of her war reputation in comparison with the First World War male poets.
Wilfred Owen ironically directed his early draft of the poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ at Pope, then removed her name, addressed it ‘To a Certain Poetess’ and finally referenced her in the poem as a ‘friend’. In relation to Owen’s poem, New Zealand poet, academic and biographer Harry Ricketts mentions her in Strange Meetings: The Poets of the Great War (2010): ‘“Dulce et Decorum Est” was originally dedicated to the popular children’s writer and author of patriotic verses, Jessie Pope’. Ricketts then notes the intended irony in the dedication. A good article covering Pope and Owen’s ‘friendship’ and Owen’s drafts of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is by W G Bebbington in Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, 3/4 (1972), 82–93.
I have not found further mentions of Pope in either the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English (2nd ed. 1998) or the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature (1998). There may be references to her in New Zealand soldiers’ accounts and publications of the First World War that I have not looked into in detail. The Hocken Library in Dunedin has a number of these war and soldier publications and archival papers. I suspect New Zealanders’ views (and the soldiers’ views) of Pope would’ve changed over the years particularly in light of the events at Gallipoli, although she does retain a certain social significance to New Zealand and Australia for her ANZAC poems.
A search of the Australian Trove archive turns up well over 100 search results for Pope’s name, including numerous republications of her poems, especially Pope’s ‘Anzac’ poem. One newspaper [Northern Territory Times and Gazette, Darwin,25 November 1915] prefaced it: ‘The following [Anzac] poem recently appeared in an English paper. Its reference to the Australian soldiers at theDardanelles must be most gratifying to those whose relatives took part in that historic landing.’ Her war poems are included in the Australian War Memorial indicating her ongoing significance to Australian ANZAC memories. Her popularity inAustralia would’ve been comparable to her status in New Zealand during the First World War. Her war poems are not inNew Zealand libraries, however, which now show only holdings at the National Library of New Zealand for a selection of her children’s books.
Pope’s ‘pro-war poems’ like ‘Who’s for the Game?’ and ‘The Call’ are now often presented as counterpoints to the War Poets (Sassoon, Owen, etc) perhaps detracting from her pre-World War I reputation. A new e-book biography (available on the internet) by W Lawrance‘demonstrates that this [pro-war propagandist] reputation is not entirely deserved’. Lawrance also includes Pope and her poems ‘Socks’, ‘The Call’, ‘War Girls’, and ‘Who’s for the Game?’ in Great War Literature Study Guide on Female Poets of the First World War (2005).
There are now a number of internet articles, anthology inclusions, videos and listings available for Pope. An entry for her by J. Dowson appears in The Encyclopedia of British Women’s Writing, 1900–1950, ed. F. Hammill, E. Miskimmin, and A. Sponenberg (2006).
There is an online entry on her by Jane Potter at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and at Wikipedia. She also appears in an interview on YouTube along with filmed war segments or recitations for her poems predominantly for school groups. Pope is included on the War Poetry site http://warpoetry.co.uk and in war books and anthologies. Two of her war poems appear in David Robert’s Minds at War (1996), one in Roberts’ Out in the Dark (1998) and one in the collection The Return of the Soldier (2010) edited by West/Schweizer/Thorne. She also appears in Fiona Waters’ collection of illustrated First World War poetry, A Corner of a Foreign Field (2007). Lindesay Irvine’s 2008 Guardian blog article discusses Pope’s loss of reputation and considers her ‘harder to despise than one might expect’. George Simmer’s writes a blog article in similar vein in ‘Poor Jessie Pope’ War writer Tim Kendall responds to Simmer’s blog discussing Pope’s verse and quoting from Pope’s ‘War Girls’. By contrast Roger McGough includes her as a children’s poet in a book of poems inspired by the fives senses, Sensational! (2005).
WorldCat lists 83 publications by Pope, mostly juvenile works of literature, archival material and reprints of adult books such as London Characters (1904), Paper Pellets (1907), Airy Nothings (1909), Jessie Pope’s War Poems (1915), More War Poems (1915), Simple Rhymes for Stirring Times (1916), Love – on Leave (1919), and Hits and Misses (1920).
Another connection to ANZAC soldiers is in Pope’s short fiction Love – on Leave, which contains a story about a love affair between a young Englishwoman and an ANZAC soldier. The theme of love between ANZACs and Englishwomen is similarly the subject of her poem ‘Coo-ee!’
Her later works moved away from the war theme and back into the field of children’s writing. Not much survives about her later life. She married a retired bank manager, Edward Babington Lenton on11 May 1929 at age 61 and moved from London to Great Yarmouth. Her death is given on14 December 1941 at Broom Hill House, Chagford, Devon. Her cremation took place at Plymouth.
Here are Jessie Pope’s ANZAC-related poems from Papers Past at the National Library of New Zealand:
We know that you’re sportsmen, with reason,
At footer and cricket you’re crack;
I haven’t forgotten the season
When we curled up before the “All Blacks.”
In the matter of wielding the “willow,”
We own, to our cost, that you’re it,
The “ashes” you’ve borne o’er the billow—
Though they’re home again now, for a bit.
There are weightier matters to settle
To-day, amid bullets and shells;
And the world stands amazed at the mettle
You’ve shown in the farDardanelles.
The marvellous feat of your landing
Your exploits by field and by deed,
Your charges that brooked no withstanding,
Though you poured out the best of your blood.
You left your snug homesteads “down under”;
The prosperous life of your land,
And staggered the Turks with your thunder,
To give the Old Country a hand.
For dare-devil work we may book you,
You’re ready and keen to get to it.
If a job is impossible, look you,
The boys from “down under” will do it.
—Jessie Pope, in the Daily Express,London.
(“Feilding Star”, 16 November 1915)
They were “cobbers,” that’s Anzac for chum.
But it means rather more than we mean –
A friendship that will not succumb,
Though distance or death intervene.
Adventure, success, and mishap
In boyhood they’d shared, so no wonder
They jumped at the chance of a scrap
And booked with the crowd from ”down under.”
In a narrow Gallipoli trench
They chanced upon glimpses of hell,
And a thirst there was nothing to quench
But a deluging downpour of shell;
Perpetual ridges they took,
They charged and they cursed and they shouted,
But nothing their recklessness shook
Till one of the “cobbers” got “outed.”
The other one came back at night,
Exhausted in body and brain,
And groped round the scene of the fight,
But sought for his “cobber” in vain.
His spirit was heavy with grief,
His outlook was sombre and blotted,
But his bayonet brought him relief
Next, morning— and that’s when he “got it.”
Scene: Midday,Victoria street,
An Anzac (in blue) on each side –
A coo-ee, wild, ringing, and sweet –
The taxicabs swerve and divide.
For traffic they don’t care a toss,
There, right in the middle, they’re meeting;
Stay, let’s draw a curtain across
Where the two long-lost “cobbers” are greeting.
(“Poverty Bay Herald”, 16 February 1916)
AN ANZAC CAP.
It hangs on the wall, a trifle battered,
The wire is warped and the lining tattered.
And the leather inside shows speakingly how
It’s been wet with the sweat of a soldier’s brow.
Month after month, through that fierce campaign—
The bitterest fight that was fought in vain—
It was jammed on an Anzac’s lean, brown poll,
As he pierced his way to a glimpse of goal.
Furlong by furlong, aye, inch by inch,
From the sniping shot to the cold-steel, clinch-
Fists, “rough-housing,” any old tools—
He got there each time by “Rafferty rules.”
Till a shell, with his name on, gave him a call—
And that is the tale of the cap on the wall,
But the sequel, though strange, is an equally true one—
Its owner, thank God, is now wearing a new one.
(“Poverty Bay Herald”, 7 March 1916)
“Down under” boys on furlough are in town
Discharged from hospital, repaired and braced,
Their faces still retain, their native brown,
Their millinery captivates our taste.
They’ve proved themselves a terror to the Turk,
Of cut and thrust they bear full many a token,
But though they’ve been through grim, heartbreaking work,
The Anzac spirit never can be broken.
Their talk is picturesque, their manner frank,
A little hasty, what they think— they say—
They’ve got a down on arrogance and swank,
Passive submission doesn’t come their way.
Risk and adventure are their fondest joys,
If there’s a fight around, well, they’ll be in it—
To tell the truth, they really are “some” boys—
You get quite friendly with them in a minute.
Quite friendly, yes, no harm in being friends,
They must not find their furlough dull and tame,
But, girls, see to it there the matter ends,
And show thatLondongirls can play the game,
While of good comradeship you take your fill
Don’t use your power to make their hearts your plunder,
But let them pause, and hear when nights are still
The other girl who coo-ees from “down under.”
(“The Observer”, 29 September 1917)
[AN ANZAC POEM.]
Why do we cheer those brown-faced boys with pride,
Why do dense crowds press round on every side,
Why do we throw them flowers, our hearts aglow?
Well—turn a minute to three years ago.
A moonlit beach—a cliff of scrub and bush—
The creeping, crowded boats—a breathless hush—,
A cranch of keels —a leap, a shallow splash—
And then Inferno, thunder, blaze and crash.
“Straight as a bayonet”—riddled where they fell;
Hacking the wire, across that strip of Hell;
Those untried heroes—husky and blood-drenched—
Hurled back the Turkish outposts —and entrenched!
The thing that was impossible was done!
From the beginning thus have Britons won.
So, year by year, in words of fire and gold,
The Anzacs’ glorious landing shall be told.
(quoted in an article ‘Imperishable Renown’ in the “Thames Star”, 24 April 1918)
Report for Poetry Archive of NZ Aotearoa © Mark Pirie
Photo of Jessie Pope by La Fayette, 1929
Article also published as the booklet, An Account of the War Poet Jessie Pope: A Popular Edwardian and Georgian writer in New Zealand (1903-23), by Mark Pirie, Cultural and Political Booklets, Wellington, New Zealand. Monograph of Aotearoa Literature No. 70. ISBN 978-1-927142-95-0.